Fiji coup leader George Speight won election to the Pacific nation’s Parliament today, 16 months after he overthrew its democratically elected government.
His victory was announced shortly after Speight appeared in Suva Magistrates’ Court for a pre-trial hearing on charges over the May 2000 nationalist coup.
Speight won the Tailevu North Fijian communal seat for the Conservative Alliance, a nationalist party demanding that indigenous Fijians control political power in their homeland.
Standing under his Fijian name of Ilitini Naitini, Speight took the rural district, beating the candidate from the Fijian United Party, or SDL, led by military-installed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
Under Fiji law, anybody without a criminal record can run for a Parliament seat. Speight has yet to be tried for his alleged crimes, which include treason.
However, if Speight remains in prison and is unable to attend Parliament on two consecutive sittings, he would be disqualified from the seat.
Qarase took power after Speight’s coup toppled Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji’s first ethnic Indian prime minister. Speight said he wanted to snatch political and economic power from Fiji’s 44% ethnic Indian minority and return it to indigenous Fijians.
Rivals Chaudhry and Qarase have both won seats in the Parliament. Observers expect one of their parties to win a majority, or form a coalition government.
Speight, being held in pre-trial custody on the prison island of Nukulau near the capital Suva, appeared in court as the final vote count for his seat continued. He was returned to his prison cell before his victory was formally announced.